Shocking: Kids Really Don't Care About Nutrition Labels

Filed under: Nutrition: Health, Research Reveals: Teens, Research Reveals: Tweens, Research Reveals: Big Kids, Research Reveals: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Teen Culture, Tween Culture, Mealtime, In The News, Health

Study shows labeling laws didn't change how kids eat.

Study shows labeling laws didn't change how kids eat. Credit: Emmanuel Dunand, AFP/Getty Images

"Merciful heavens, mother! Did you read this label? These french fries are 540 calories -- and 212 of those calories are from fat! What were you thinking, bringing me to this fast-food restaurant?!

"Take me home and administer broccoli! Stat!"


Sound familiar?

Of course not. That's because practically no one -- child or adult -- goes to a fast-food restaurant expecting anything but shockingly unhealthy, artery-clogging yummy goodness.

Now there is an actual scientific study to confirm this.

Researchers looked at people's fast-food choices in New York City before and after a mandatory labeling law took effect.

Guess what. No difference.

In other words, would you like apple slices or fries with your Happy Meal? Duh! What do you think?

"We didn't notice a change in calories purchased before and after labeling," study leader Dr. Brian Elbel, of New York University's School of Medicine and Wagner School of Public Service, tells US News & World Report.

"Labeling is not going to be a silver bullet," he says.

Elbel tells the magazine something more is needed. Maybe restaurants could school parents and kids about the ideal range of calories for each meal, he says. Maybe that would make kids clammor for salad.

Then again ...

"Once a decision is made to go to a fast-food restaurant, nutrition information appears to not change choices," Connie Diekman, the director of university nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis, tells US News & World Report.

Well, something needs to be done, Elbel tells the magazine. There's a direct link between fast food and (gasp) obesity.

The law in New York City requires restaurants with 20 or more locations to post calorie information on their menu items. The law took effect in the summer of 2008.

Elbel and his team spent two weeks studying the food choices of 349 kids ages 1 to 17 in low-income New York neighborhoods. They also studied kids' choices in Newark, N.J., where there is no labeling law.

They specifically looked at McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's and Kentucky Fried Chicken. About 90 percent of the customers were ethnic or racial minorities.

Some 57 percent of the teenagers in New York said they noticed the labels. Only 9 percent said they cared.

Teens scarfed down an average of 730 calories before the labels were introduced and 755 calories after. However, the calorie count for young children went down. Slightly. The average calories parents ordered for their kids went from 610 to 595 -- not enough to be statistically significant.

What does all this mean?

"It means we're going to have to rethink what other sorts of interventions might be more effective," Elbel tells Reuters news service.

Meanwhile, it's late. Mommy and Daddy are wiped out. The last thing they want to do is cook a meal and clean the kitchen.

Who wants chicken nuggets?

Click here for more information from our partner site on how to eat healthy at a fast-food joint.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.